Georgia Summons Russia’s Ambassador

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest the unsanctioned deployment of Russian troops to Abkhazia, though the ambassador insisted the troops’ mission was merely to “improve the quality of life” in the breakaway Georgian region.
Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko told reporters after emerging from the ministry in Tbilisi that thanks to the newly deployed troops, “people will live better” in Abkhazia and that the reinforcements “would reduce the hostile mood in the region,” Interfax reported.
Kovalenko said it would be “beneficial” if President Dmitry Medvedev and his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, could meet at an informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg this week to resolve differences.
Russia on Saturday deployed about 400 railway troops into Abkhazia with orders to restore rail tracks that connect Russia to the breakaway region and that run through Georgia all the way to Russia’s land-locked ally of Armenia.
The 40-kilometer stretch was destroyed during the war Abkhazia fought against Georgia in the early 1990s. Russian and Georgian leaders signed a memorandum to explore the feasibility of setting up a Russian-Georgian-Abkhaz-Armenian consortium to restore the railway link in 2003 as a confidence-building economic project.
Relations between Russia and Georgia soured soon afterward, however, putting the project in limbo.  Kovalenko said the idea of the consortium should be revived for “the benefit of not only Georgia and Abkhazia, but of the entire South Caucasus region.”
The UN-brokered cease-fire between Georgian and Abkhaz forces allows Russia to keep up to 3,000 military servicemen as peacekeepers in the separatist province. Georgia nonetheless criticized the deployment.
Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said Monday that Tbilisi opposed the deployment of Russian soldiers to Abkhazia because civil organizations typically carry out humanitarian missions. “The Russians are using military forces to restore a railway, and this is an absolutely different from a humanitarian operation,” Kutelia told Reuters.
Russia has been pursuing a two-pronged policy vis-a-vis the frozen conflict. On the one hand, Moscow has been tacitly supporting Abkhazia by granting Russian citizenship to its residents and more recently canceling trade and economic sanctions against the breakaway region. At the same time, the Kremlin has been paying lip service to Georgia’s territorial integrity, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week even supporting Tbilisi’s recent proposals to resolve the conflict by granting broad autonomy to Abkhazia.
Putin’s surprising show of support could indicate that Russia is close to brokering a deal on restoration of the rail link.
The consortium could be discussed if Russian and Georgian officials meet Friday in St. Petersburg, Kommersant reported Monday.